Is Painting Art?

Gauguin, Van Gogh Painting (1888) Oil on canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

This website, EPPH, is founded on a few principles that bear repeating, especially for new users. One of the most important concerns art’s definition. What is art? We believe that drawing and painting are crafts, not arts. Almost any motivated student properly trained can draw or paint well. However, contrary to conventional understanding, they are not necessarily artists even if  superb draughtsmen. Many academically-trained painters in the nineteenth century were technically more skillful than, say. Gauguin but they were not poets and thus not “artists". They may have been to an Academy of Fine Arts but, while there, they learnt a craft. 

As this issue is crucial I was pleased yesterday to find it half-expressed by Gauguin himself in referring to the annual prize winner from the French Academy of Fine Arts. His expression “to draw well” really means “to make art”:

"To know how to draw does not mean to draw well….Every Prix de Rome winner has that science at his fingertips; so have all the competitors who came in last….It’s a science they acquire easily, without the slightest effort, while spending time in their beer halls and brothels.”1 

To be fair this point-of-view begs its own question: what is “ visual poetry”? I’ll tackle that question separately in the near future.


P.S. Do note in the image above, Gauguin's painting of Van Gogh painting, that Van Gogh's brush "touches" his own canvas inside the painting and the flowers as well. Thus we cannot tell which he is creating, his painting or the painting we are looking at. Gauguin has adopted Van Gogh's persona to suggest that Vincent paints the picture in Gauguin's mind, not Paul. Gauguin has imagined himself as the master who inspires him, Vincent. He even may have given Van Gogh his own hooked nose.


1. Pickvance, The Drawings of Gauguin (New York: Paul Hamlyn) 1970, p.5

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

The EPPH Blog features issues and commentary.